Monday, May 18, 2009

Interview with Adina, The Imperfect Gardener

Over the past month I’ve been corresponding with Adina Sara, The Imperfect Gardener. Enjoy! And remember to check out one of her readings. Info below.

Q: How did you got involved in garden writing. The collection of
stories in your new book seem like they were created at various times across many years. Did that process of writing lead you to the Macarther Metro column?

A: When I was asked by Metro editor Toni Locke to write a feature
garden column for the Metro back in 2001, it was a perfect opportunity
to blend my 2 favorite activities – gardening and writing. The previous
garden columnist was leaving, and I explained to Toni that unlike my
predecessor, I was not a garden expert by any stretch. I had been
digging and poking and experimenting for years in my temperamental
landscape, and it seemed like every step forward brought me several
steps backwards in my gardening plans. I assured her this would not be
a “how to” garden column, but rather an attempt to share my own
gardening experiences with readers. She was happy with that.

My garden memoir grew out of the garden columns. At some point I
realized that the evolution of my garden closely paralleled events in my
life, and so I expanded on the spirit of the Imperfect Gardener column,
adding personal details that were not appropriate for a newspaper. I
had learned so many important lessons in the process of gardening, and I felt they were worth sharing with gardeners as well as non-gardeners.

Q: With your column and garden exchanges, you've been an influential
member of the local gardening community for awhile now. How do you see your book influencing a larger community?

A: I am always a bit amused when people ask me gardening advice
because I write a garden column. I was recently invited to join a round
table discussion of garden experts on KQED Forum that included the
garden editor of Sunset Magazine and a local chapter president of the
Native Plant Society. Despite the fact that in my column and book, I
confess to gardening mishaps, surprises and accidental discoveries,
people still think that because I write about gardening, I must be able
to give advice. My best advice is to not take my advice but rather, go
out and discover your own relationship to your garden. If my writing
exerts any influence on others, I would hope it would be to embrace
mistakes, don't be afraid of trying something that intrigues you, observe the successes and failures with equal appreciation, and find joy in the process as much as the outcome. Gardening is a never-ending adventure. After over 25 years, I can still proudly say I am not an expert and likely never will be. Rather, I approach my garden as an explorer and adventurer, and hope that by example, I influence others do to the same.

Q: In your book, you show the beauty of weedy plants, debris, and
imperfection. I'm curious if there are any aspects of your garden that
still grate on your nerves. Ones that beg for your attention to be

A: My pathways. Always strewn with bamboo fronds, broken bits of
flowers, spots where the tiny pebbles wore away to expose the dirt
beneath, leaving uneven, messy surfaces. I’ve always admired the
alternative – expensive hardscapes of stone, tile, clean gorgeous
surfaces on which to walk while passing through planting beds. Though
the look tempts me, I either can’t afford it, or fear that it will make
my garden feel like a showroom. Finding that balance between orderly
and wild is what baffles me most about gardening. Everything is in
bloom right now, the roses and iris are peaking and nasturtium bloom in every corner, but when I walk through the garden, I still get upset
about the leaf-strewn weedy pathways. It reminds me how easy it is to
focus on the negative, when the positive is everywhere – another of
gardening’s great lessons.

Q: Are there any new plants that you are looking forward to trying this
season? Are there any regular plant guests that you are looking forward
to seeing again?

A: I've been working on my spring vegetable garden, so of course
I'm looking forward to watching everything ripen and hopefully enjoy the bounty throughout the summer and fall. I'm trying out cantaloupe for the first time and plan to train it upward. Also trying some yellow sweet peppers that I've never grown before. I planted and will always plant sun gold tomatoes - there's just nothing like them - delicious, plentiful and seemingly foolproof. And blue lake beans, though the scarlet runners are more spectacular in appearance, I prefer to eat the
blue lakes. I moved the tarragon (my favorite herb) for the third time
in three years. It's a perennial, but it seems finicky. Hasn't found
its perfect home yet, tucked inside the lettuce bed. I'm hoping it will
thrive in this new spot. If not, there's always next year.

How lucky we are to have so many choices year after year - I only wish I
was as lucky in the harvest stage as with planting selections. I've
filled the beds with compost and all systems are go - but still, some
years the food may be plentiful but flavorless, and other years just a
couple of morsels manage to make their way to the table but they are
succulent and delicious and all the more valuable for their scarcity.
There are so many variables to successful vegetable gardening - and the
best thing is that every year we start with a clean slate and fresh hope
for next year's bounty.

Q: With our Mediterranean environment in the bay area, we have the
opportunity to garden all year long. It's both a blessing and a
challenge. I still have yet to master winter vegetable gardening. What
have your experiences been with this abundance of gardening time?

I harvested 2 beets and had them for dinner last night. I don't even
want to tell you how small they were. I'd never brag about my beet
growing skills, but what pleasure I had eating those two tiny samples.
Worms tend to eat more of my winter garden than I do, but if I can get a few well-shaped brussel sprouts, or carrots large enough to slice into a salad, I’m delighted. I try not to put pressure on myself to harvest successes all year round, even though we are lucky enough to have that choice. Most of us have to juggle our work lives, personal lives, and everything-in-between along with the never ending duties that our gardens present us with. My gardening moods do not necessarily
correspond with the dictates of the seasons. I may get a flurry of gardening energy in the winter, cutting back and digging and reshaping planting beds when there isn’t that much growing, and nothing in need of immediate attention. And come summer, when there’s everything to do, I may just feel like bringing out a good book and something cold to drink and enjoy the shade of my overgrown plantings. Some work is necessary to prevent disasters, and certainly successful vegetable gardening requires timely and dedicated attention. But I try not to look at my garden as an arduous year-long “to do” list, but rather as place that periodically invites my attention and affection, so I have no choice but to respond.

Q: I'd like to finish up the interview with asking you if there is
anything else you'd like to say about your book, upcoming readings, or

A: Since my book came out, I find that people are asking me for
gardening advice. I recently appeared on a radio program with a few
garden experts and people were calling in wanting to know what to plant and what to dig up, and how to ‘attack’ a variety of pests. So many people seem intimidated by their gardens, afraid they might do something wrong if they don’t get proper information. For me, the garden is a personal relationship. It grows and changes every day, and every day I stumble on new frustrations (black bugs in the kale); surprises (two new artichokes just appeared) and almost constant wonder. What thrives in my garden may not be happy in yours, and though you may love your prize-winning rhododendron, I have never been a fan of that particular plant. The only advice I would ever give is to live in your garden – watch it unfold – notice who else lives there - try everything that intrigues you and enjoy the failures as much as the successes. Anyone who spends time in their garden, and allows the constantly evolving landscape to become an important part of their lives, is an expert.

I look forward to sharing my garden’s stories at the Laurel Book Store
on Thursday, May 21 at 7:00 pm, at the Montclair Great Good Place for
on June 19 at 7:00 p.m., and at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette on
June 25.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hadley's Annual Garden Giveaway

I recently went to one of our annual neighborhood plant exchanges hosted by Hadley. The two rhubarb plants that I brought were gone before I even had a chance to set them down. I'm sure they will be happy in their new homes waiting to become rhubarb pie come summer.

On the email list that Hadley sent out prior to the event, I saw that he had some Giant pumpkin starts to give out. I've been wanting to try my hands at one of these for years now but I always seem to get caught up in my other gardening projects. I even owned the Giant pumpkin book even while living in a San Francisco studio apartment with only three small container boxes!

By time I arrived at the exchange, the giant pumpkins were gone. Well at least the labeled ones. I did find some with just "pumpkin" on the label which means they could be anything. Maybe this mystery is even better than coming home with my intended score. I always love when unknown seedlings come out from my compost pile. I had some great butternut squash that way a few seasons ago. Well, come fall it's anybodies guess what kind of beautiful pumpkin will arrive.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Imperfect Gardens

I started my blog about a year ago to document my progress with my yard...sometimes i get stuck...sometimes i accomplish things. We had an article in Oakland Macarthur Metro newspaper which made us instant urban homesteading stars even though many people have been doing permaculture, chickens, bees in the laurel long before we even moved here. But it's cute how we've become "experts". we even received a nice postcard from a lady about chickens lost in the laurel addressed to us as the "chicken daddies" Gave us a nice laugh and made our day

Along with this heightened interested, I received an email from the Metro's garden columnist Adina Sara back in the fall. She was having a new book come out and wanted me to review it. First off I really don't consider myself a writer. It's just a means to document but i was thrilled by the compliment so decided to help her out as neighbors and community members.

Her promo copy of "The Imperfect Garden" arrived in march just as i was beginning to start working on my spring garden. Something else to distract me from half completed garden projects that stopped once the fall rains and winter cold hit. I went to her house on a rainy day. I'd been over to her garden before for plant swaps. We had a nice little chat at her house about the beauty of imperfection and forgetting scientific names. Just enjoying the plants as they are. As someone who is studying up at Merritt's landscape horticulture program, I can really appreciate her simplified approach.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the book. It was a little dinky thing. Obviously published by a small group. The fonts bugged me and the type set. My boyfriend was horrified. But once i looked past its initial flaws the words spoke to me like no other garden book ever has.

She spoke of befriending common foes within our gardens such as oxalis and acacia trees. Finding the beauty of a struggling seedling emerging from the chaos of old wood/debris. You know we all have these "problem" spots in our gardens. Things we easily avoid discussing when chatting about the beauty of our yard. However, Adina gives them the limelight. Shows the beauty in the imperfections.

Alot of times I'm ashamed to have neighborhood groups over to my garden. They'll see the uncompleted projects, the falling down chicken wire, the plants that have been sitting in pots too long. This book gave me confidence to face my gardening demons. It is ok. it is all part of the process....

Laurel neighbor Rachel Michaelsen's photos helped to illustrate Adina's stories. I was nodding with nostalgia to all her common misadventures. The book may be small but i never felt like it was too short. However, I only wanted to devour a little bit at a time. savor the beauty of it over a month or so.

This book is not only for our community who knows Adina and the Laurel district of oakland but for the whole gardening community. She captures the struggle we all share and love so much.

Adina will be reading selections from her book at Laurel Bookstore [4100 Macarthur Blvd]on May 21st. You can pick up the book there or purchase through her website

Monday, April 6, 2009

Greenhouse, Fear, and Spring

My friend Ira used to be terrified of growing anything. Slowly I introduced him to cultivating herbs then a lemon tree. I'd give him extra seedlings of whatever i was growing that year. Now a few years later, he is harvesting all kinds of produce from two raised beds in Oakland's Lakeshore district. The house were he uses the raised beds has an old greenhouse that wasn't in use. So starting in December we started to refurbish it. Just last weekend we put our first seeds in to start. Not sure how it will turn out since we aren't sure of how the exhaust fan works exactly. Maybe everything will get fried but it's a start to this spring season

Friday, December 26, 2008

Winter Veggies

I finally got around to pulling up my tomato, basil, and pepper plants today. The frost we had last week gave them a final death zap.

Last spring I went to the Maker's Faire where i picked up a packet of colored carrot seeds in the permaculture section. I sprinkled them into one of my raised beds and pretty much ignored them. Well, while pulling out the peppers I found this beauty!

The fava beans i started in 6-packs were also put in the ground today. Lots of shelling to look forward to in the springtime

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day of the Dead

This past sunday we had a small Day of the Dead party. Felt good to share with my community when we've all been under stress over the looming election.

I cooked squash tacos from a recipe received from our CSA Terra Firma Farms newsletter. The prior weekend, I also gleaned tons of squash from the parking lot at open farm day. We were able to pick up all the stuff that was just going to rot such as strawberries, walnuts, and squash. I've been part of the CSA for ten years now but have never gone to one of their open farm days. The vibe is completely different than harvest festivals at county fairs. I felt like part owner/ community member at the CSA. The gathering was a celebration instead of just a money maker. I'll be going from now on.

For our party, our friend Aaron brought us a watermelon from his yard. He lives just down the hill in maxwell park. I've never had luck with watermelon yet but this gives me hope.

John Frando and Nik Lostracco from The Macarthur Metro came over to to interview us and take pics of our yard. You can look forward to seeing the article in december's issue. However, you wont be seeing much of me in the pics because i dressed up as a skeleton farmer for the party. and then realized...oops....the issue will be coming out around xmas so would confuse people

The following monday, I made Day after the Dead bread pudding with the leftover pan muerto. A very tasty way to use the leftover stale bread

Even though alot of negativity has sprouted up in our bay area bubble remember to hang on and bring together the people who are your allies. And to share in food and thought to help make it thru the dark times. I began planting my winter seeds which are beginning to sprout up giving me hope thru the cold rainy winter months.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Eat Local, Shop Local

The second best thing to producing your own is to buy it locally! Last week a new farmer's market opened up in the laurel sponsered by Oakland Food Connection. Our neighborhood group was also hosting its first annual block sale. Plus I needed to get a birthday present for my friend's 3 year old kid Kahlo. This meant a trip to Laurel Book Store and Komodo Toys. My morning walk was planned!

On my way to the block sale, I had the good fortune in running into neighbor John Frando who was putting up flyers/cones. I love being able to just stroll down the street and see people that I know. I haven't had that much here in Oakland so it was quite the nice change. John is working on an article for The Macarthur Metro on gardens/chickens/sustainability in the laurel and was asking me for an interview.

Not too many people were at the block sale yet but I got the chance to talk to some other neighbors. I've been talking with Stella who organized the Neighborhood Night Out earlier this month to see how we can continue these potlucks to help everybody get to know each other better. I'm trying to figure out the logistics of giving a cheese making workshop. I also got three more people on my waiting list for eggs.

Next I tried Komodo Toys but unfortunately they were closed so I went straight to Laurel Book Store. I found exactly what I needed. Children's books on ducks, chickens, and art. I hope Kahlo loves them. His sense of wonder is fun to watch when he comes over our house to see the animals. The owner Luan even gift wrapped the presents for free! I chatted up another customer about Mark Bittman's cookbook. Normally in a chainstore a person standing behind somebody getting something gift wrapped would get annoyed. But the local scene is more laid back so you have the possibility of enjoying the company of strangers.

The new farmer's market was small but charming. Only being the second week, there is just three vendors. Oakland Food Connection, Purple Lawn Cafe, and a farmer. Unfortunately the farmer didn't show up this week. If I had driven in my car and had to find parking, the situation might have been annoying. But it wasnt, instead I'm glad that something new is being created in my neighborhood. I was glad to hand over money to see this bloom. . I cant wait to see the changes in the upcoming weeks. I'll be returning.

It's nice to have an excuse for a saturday morning stroll!